On March 22, 2024, Preservation Long Island opened the Smithsonian Museum on Main Street exhibition, Voices and Votes: Democracy in America, at its Headquarters in Cold Spring Harbor. We are the first venue in New York State to host the exhibition which takes a broad look at the nearly 250-year-old American experiment of a government “of, by and for the people.”

Unveiled at the exhibition opening was a community quilt commissioned by Preservation Long Island and sponsored by North Shore Quilting and Fiber Art that encouraged participants to reflect on the past and what democracy meant to them. The quilt’s concept and design was inspired by a Civil War-era example in Preservation Long Island’s collection now on view as part of the companion exhibition, Democracy on Long Island, that connects our local history with the larger story of American democracy.

Left: Volunteer quilters organize the layout of each of the blocks. Right: Jessica from North Shore Quilting and Fiber Art and a volunteer show off the completed quilt top.

Measuring 75 inches long by 75 inches wide, the new community quilt features the handiwork of over 100 Long Islanders who contributed their time, talents, and resources towards its creation. The piece is composed of 85 daisy appliqué and economy blocks signed by makers representing communities across Long Island, from Hewlett to East Hampton. Each participant selected their design and free kits were generously provided by North Shore Quilting and Fiber Art.

A living history for the next generation begins with the continuation of traditions such as this.

When quilters were asked why they chose to participate, Beth Chamberlain explained, “It’s a wonderful way to connect present and past. The specific project is a great reminder that women’s work was not solitary but was in reality often community building.” Sue Ptacek remarked, “A living history for the next generation begins with the continuation of traditions such as this.” For North Shore Quilting and Fiber Art, the project was an opportunity to celebrate our shared heritage, bring the community closer, and “weave the rich tapestry of our town’s history into a beautiful, lasting piece of art.”

Left: Project participants view the historic quilt at the opening reception. Right: Signature quilt, ca. 1862. Cotton, 86 x 78 in. Preservation Long Island purchase, 2019.2.

The project officially launched with a reception at Preservation Long Island’s Exhibition Gallery where participants had the chance to view the historic quilt up close. The piece descended in the Onderdonk Family of Manhasset and was made in the early 1860s by members of the local Dutch Reformed Church. Like our new community quilt, its makers each contributed a square which they then signed with their name and sometimes the date and the town they lived in too. Communities historically created signature, or album quilts, to celebrate major life events or to support a cause. As the Onderdonk quilt was being made, the Civil War was raging in the South. Women on both sides of the conflict stepped up to keep troops warm and dry, referring to their needles as weapons as they metaphorically fought alongside their “brothers in the field.” Although it is unclear if the Onderdonk quilt ever made it down to a soldier at camp, the ongoing fight to preserve the Union was certainly on the minds of those who painstakingly stitched it together.

Open-Sew Day at Preservation Long Island

Quilt-making was often a social process—a time of shared work and companionship. In this spirit, Preservation Long Island hosted a open-sew day, offering participants the opportunity to sew, share stories, and learn together. Once each of the blocks were completed and collected, volunteers then pieced them all together, creating the top layer of the quilt. It was subsequently sent to Grandma Eddie’s Quilting who generously contributed their time and longarm machine to sew together the top, batting, and backing to finish it off. The completed quilt is a stunning example of community collaboration and craftsmanship and will be preserved for future generations as part of Preservation Long Island’s collection. We are deeply grateful to North Shore Quilting and Fiber Art for sponsoring and organizing this project, to Grandma Eddie for their longarming services, and to all the volunteers and quilters for their time and efforts. The community quilt is now on view as part of Democracy on Long Island through May 3, 2024. Visit us Thursday though Sunday, 10 AM to 4:30 PM!

By Lauren Brincat
Published April 1, 2024

Further Reading

Peck, Amelia, and Cynthia V. A Schaffner. American Quilts & Coverlets in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1990.

Shaw, Madeline, and Lynne Zacek Bassett. Homefront & Battlefield: Quilts & Context in the Civil War. Lowell, MA: American Textile History Museum, 2012.